'Golden' Life Getting Tarnished in Bethel
By Jeanne Sager
WHITE LAKE February 9, 2007 Alex Schock should be on top of the world.
He and wife Suzana just sent 10 of their purebred golden retriever puppies to British Columbia, Canada, to star in the latest sequel in the wildly popular “Air Bud” series by Disney.
They’ll be sending two more litters in coming weeks 30 dogs from White Lake in all who will be flashing their puppy dog eyes on the silver screen.
Two pups born at White Lake Goldens grace the cover of the film “Air Buddies,” just released in December on Disney DVD.
Their dogs were chosen to appear in every promotion Disney did for the film after a dog “talent agent” found them on the Internet.
She pulled up at the Schocks White Lake home in a Cadillac Escalade with her own driver.
“All Hollywood style,” Alex Schock said with a laugh.
But the Schocks’ story is far from a fairy tale.
The Town of Bethel has passed a local law to “delete” kennels from its residential RF zones (where the Schocks and their dogs live), and he’s afraid he’s going to be out of a job.
The Schocks are two of a handful of Bethel residents with a kennel permit contesting a provision of the law that asks grandfathered dog owners in the RF district to cease operation within seven years.
Alex Schock says it means he’d have to shut down his family business in seven years.
That’s after spending $30,000 to $40,000 to bring his property into compliance with town law a few years ago to obtain a kennel license, plus the costs he’ll incur meeting 11 new proposed regulations for kennels in the township.
But Town Supervisor Harold Russell said Schock has it all wrong.
They’re not trying to put him out of business they just want him to comply with the original provisions of his kennel license.
If he does, he can apply for a special use permit, Russell said.
The seven-year provision is for people who aren’t in the business of breeding it’s to protect them from having to put down their pets.
But the Schocks applied for a kennel permit before the law passed, Russell said, and the town is taking into consideration the fact that this is a business.
Alex Schock has been raising goldens since he was a child, first with his father and more recently with wife Suzana.
The couple moved to White Lake five years ago from Pennsylvania because Suzana’s family owned land in and around Foster Road.
Alex said it was a beautiful town, a nice place to raise sons Jonathan and Justin.
They didn’t approach the town about their kennel until two years ago because they didn’t know they had to.
“In Pennsylvania, where I lived, I didn’t need a kennel license,” he explained. “You can have 100 dogs, and they don’t care as long as you can take care of them.”
The Schocks slowly brought their dogs over from Pennsylvania, and continued adopting out litters. When he realized he needed a permit, Schock said he immediately went to town hall.
“I said, ‘Hey, I want to do the right thing here,’” he said. “It was the biggest mistake I ever made.”
The town gave the couple six weeks to come into compliance, requiring a business management plan and stipulating the Schocks stick to that plan.
Alex said they did, renovating buildings on their 2 1⁄2 acre property to the tune of some $40,000.
“I was willing, in the beginning, to do whatever they wanted me to do,” Alex said.
This is, after all, their primary business. Suzana works part-time as a nurse, but Alex spends most of his time taking care of the dogs.
Currently, the couple has five female goldens and three males one of which is the littermate to the three dogs featured on the cover of January’s O Magazine with owner Oprah Winfrey.
Shock said his kennel license application was for 12 adult dogs on the property.
The proposed regulations won’t just eliminate kennels in the RF district. Kennels in the town’s agricultural district will be limited to properties of 10 acres or more so Schock said he can’t apply for a zoning change.
All but one of the neighboring properties, including the 23-acre parcel across the street, are owned by members of Suzana’s family.
They’ve had problems with one neighbor, been hauled into court on disturbance of the peace charges for excessive barking.
One case last summer was thrown out, another was heard just a few days ago in front of Bethel Justice Kevin Rhyne.
Schock said the claimant stood on the adjoining property with a video camera taping his dogs barking to prove to the court there was a problem.
But the dogs were barking BECAUSE there was someone standing there staring at them, he said. Schock pled not guilty. He’s awaiting a decision from Rhyne.
He’s putting in fencing to provide a better barrier between his property and that of the one neighbor he said holds a personal vendetta.
He just got an estimate of $20,000 for opaque fencing the town is requiring a hefty sum, but Schock said he’s willing to pay if that’s what the town wants for him to stay in business.
If that means not using one of his back buildings (which he renovated with the town’s approval two years ago) for kennel purposes, so be it.
Russell said that’s what it will take total compliance.
But somewhere, Schock said the stipulations have to end.
A building near the house that the family uses to house puppies doesn’t conform to setback regulations but it was in existence before they bought the property.
Now the town’s telling them it can’t be used for the kennel because it’s non-conforming.
“I did everything they want, and now they want more, and what else?” he asked. “I feel that we’ve done everything to satisfy them.”
Sitting in his small office, he grabs a thank you note from the wall.
“We donated a dog to this girl,” he said. “She’s 13, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins… this girl, all she wanted was a golden retriever.”
The Schocks sent a puppy worth more than $1,000 to Spokane, Wash. to give a sick little girl a real Christmas.
He reads aloud a thank you note from the Duggan school, a letter thanking Mr. and Mrs. Schock for bringing in puppies for a presentation about raising dogs.
He points to photos of his puppies in the arms of kids who gave voices to characters in “Air Buddies.”
Alex and Suzana were treated to a trip to Manhattan to attend promotional events and meet some of the stars they were put in the luxurious Jumeirah Essex House hotel by Disney.
Jordan Heppner, an animal trainer who worked on Richard Gere’s “Shall We Dance” and “Air Buddies” told them their dogs were so easy to train that she wanted them for more movies.
“She said, ‘You’re going to be getting a call for the next movie,’” Alex recalled. “I’m figuring maybe a year later. No, nine days.”
Thirty of White Lake Goldens’ puppies will be in the new movie representing the dogs as they grow. Schock said he’s been told to expect many of them won’t return to White Lake simply because people on the set will fall in love and want to buy them.
He said all this Disney excitement has had him doing somersaults inside.
But he can’t get too excited, because he doesn’t know when the other shoe is going to drop.
“All of this is effecting my kids,” Alex said. “They love what we do here, they love the dogs, what we’re doing with Disney, us bringing the dogs to the school.”
But, he said, they can’t help but hear their parents talking about what might happen.
And what is that?
“Bottom line,” Alex said. “I don’t know. Selling, moving, bankruptcy?”
But Supervisor Russell said it doesn’t have to be this way.
“If he meets the 13 conditions, then we have no problem,” he said. “Frankly, he’s being a little obnoxious about it.”